NFC West News & Notes - 10/15/07

Going into a game against the winless St. Louis Rams is no guarantee of a win for the Seattle Seahawks. They proved that by falling 28-17 to a previously winless New Orleans Saints team last Sunday. For the second straight week, the Seahawk offense was terribly ineffective. They were shutout 21-0 at Pittsburgh, and failed to score against the Saints until they were down 21-0.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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"I think we have to figure out who we are and establish what we want to run and then run it well," said Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander of what the team has to do before taking on the Rams.

After picking up a meager 25 yards rushing against Pittsburgh, Alexander added 35 more in 14 carries against the Saints. The forced retirement of fullback Mack Strong (neck injury) opened the way for Leonard Weaver to get more time. Weaver made the most of it, picking up 93 yards of offense on three rushes (40 yards) and four receptions (53 yards). Late in the game, it was Weaver who was getting the carries and not Alexander, the former league MVP.

At times during the Saints game, Alexander was booed by the Qwest Field crowd. "I think they're feeling the same things we all feel," Alexander said. "I can't blame them. We're playing hard, but we're not getting it done. We have to find a way."

A problem that the Seahawks will have to correct is shaky pass protection. The Saints had only one sack in their first four games. They came up with a total of five against the Hawks, harassing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with simple twists and stunts. "We've got a lot that we need to correct," Hasselbeck said. "That's what we need to do."

The Seahawk defense again couldn't get off the field on third down. After letting Pittsburgh convert eight of 15 third-down attempts, the Seahawks saw New Orleans go 7-for-14. "After six games, our record is what it is," coach Mike Holmgren said. "There are logical reasons, honest reasons, why we have lost games. There is only one thing to do, and that is to roll up our sleeves, keep working hard, keep supporting one another, and do the things we believe in."

Holmgren said he's not worried about the team getting emotionally down after having lost two straight.

"This is a high-character group," he said. "It hurts when you lose a football game, when you put that much effort into it as we do. But we have a game next week. You can't wallow around in self-pity, that's for sure.

You have to roll up your sleeves and keep working."

The Seahawks could be facing a manpower shortage on the defensive line after losing tackle Chuck Darby to a knee injury. Injured receivers Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett are not expected to be back for the Rams game, but the Hawks have a bye following that contest and should be back to near full strength for the Nov. 4 game against the Browns at Cleveland.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB-KR Josh Wilson, who has been out the last two weeks with an ankle sprain, returned to action against New Orleans.
--TE Marcus Pollard played against the Saints although he missed the week's practice with a sore knee.
--DT Rocky Bernard played after having missed all week of practice with a tender knee.
--DT Chuck Darby was carried off the field in the fourth quarter against the Saints with an injury to his right knee.
--QB/WR Seneca Wallace had a nice 29-yard reception in a drive late in the game against the Saints.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Not long ago, the Cardinals had two quarterbacks and a mini-controversy: Should they start Kurt Warner or Matt Leinart? By the second quarter Sunday, they both were standing on the sidelines, Warner with his left arm wrapped and Leinart with his left arm in a sling.

First, Leinart went down with a broken collarbone against St. Louis. He's out for the year. Then Warner went down in the first quarter with an elbow injury last week against Carolina. Warner said he has a torn ligament, but he's hopeful of returning in a few weeks. That seems overly optimistic, however, and it's more likely that Tim Rattay will be the starter for several weeks to come.

It's a tough situation for the Cardinals and for Rattay, who signed two days after Leinart was hurt and had just three full practices before playing last Sunday.

"It's not ideal, obviously," Rattay said. "You like to go to mini-camp and training camp and all that kind of stuff. But, like I said, that's the situation that I was presented with, so you just have to roll with it."

Rattay, a seven-year veteran, started for San Francisco and Tampa Bay, but most of his NFL experience is in the so-called West Coast offense. The Cardinals offense is different, and he's not accustomed yet to the terminology.

He was given a reduced game plan last week, and will undergo some crash courses in the coming weeks. "Before the game, we were picking out the plays I didn't feel comfortable with and putting in the ones I really felt comfortable with," he said. "We'd talk on the sidelines, kind of preview the upcoming series, what they were thinking, and just making sure I knew where everyone was going to be."

The offense, however, is severely limited without Warner or Leinart. Warner was adept at running the no-huddle, or what they call their "Texas" package, and the Cardinals were successful with it. Rattay will have enough to learn with just the regular offense.

That package "has really made the difference in every one of our games," said center Al Johnson. "It hurt us to not be able to that."

Surviving the rash of injuries is not all on Rattay's shoulders. He's teammates need to help more than they did last week. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald made some great catches but also fumbled. Tight end Leonard Pope missed a pass, and receiver Jerheme Urban had two chances to make big catches but didn't come through.

"We need to step up and make them but we didn't get it done," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

PLAYER NOTES

--MLB Karlos Dansby suffered a knee sprain and could miss at least a week or two. His backup, Monty Beisel, is a solid player but Dansby was an integral part of this defense and was used in various roles, especially as a pass rusher.
--S Aaron Francisco suffered a knee sprain and could miss some time. He's one of the NFC's best special teams players, but has a limited role on defense.
--RB Edgerrin James' 23-yard touchdown run in the first half was his longest touchdown run in more than three years.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald has 353 receiving yards in the past three games. The club has played without Anquan Boldin in those games.
--QB Kurt Warner plans to help Rattay as much as he can. "I thought he did a great job," Warner said. "It's is unfortunate a couple of those balls that were intercepted could have been caught and would have been big plays for us."
--QB Tim Rattay, a Phoenix resident, was living in a development north of Phoenix when the Cardinals called. His father, Jim, is a high school football coach in Phoenix.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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It was like a preseason game when the Rams took the field against the Ravens on Sunday. Now, as they prepare for a division game in Seattle this week, they will wonder if more injuries will affect the team they put on the field.

The Rams battled the offensively-challenged Ravens with their defense and did as much as they could to keep the team in the game. But the offense scored just one field goal for the second time this season and for the third time they scored fewer than 10 points. Through six games, all losses, the Rams have totaled just 73 points.

On offense Sunday, the Rams opened the game playing with backups at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left tackle, left guard and right tackle. By the time the game ended, center Brett Romberg had left with an ankle injury, resulting in two more changes on the line. Romberg is the only lineman to have started all six games at the same position.

Wide receiver Drew Bennett left with a hamstring injury, meaning former fifth receiver Marques Hagans was now a starter. Isaac Bruce, Dante Hall and Dane Looker were out with injuries.

Said Romberg, "With all the injuries on the offensive line, I wanted to be out there. It's extremely frustrating to be on the sidelines when your team is struggling. Fortunately, the x-rays were negative and I'll be back soon. I have to be. My team needs me."

Said offensive lineman Andy McCollum, "There's a lot of football left and we've got to fight back. We don't have any answers. The injuries we've had are incredible and we've got to fight through them."

McCollum lost the center competition to Romberg in training camp, but started the last two games at left guard. He was back at center when Romberg was injured. In the first six games of the season, the Rams have had three left tackles, three left guards, two centers, three right guards and four right tackles.

Asked if there was a danger of players losing concentration, tight end Randy McMichael said, "Only if you don't love this game. I love this game too much to have my focus go away. I'll die and I'll die playing it. I love this game that much. My whole objective is to win. Losing, it sucks, and right now, it sucks. I'm broken-hearted right now. We've still got 10 games to go, and we've got to fight our butts off for those 10."

Turnovers killed the Rams again as quarterback Gus Frerotte was intercepted five times and lost a fumble. Last season, the Rams totaled 18 turnovers all season. They now have 18 in six games, nine in the last two and are minus-eight in turnover ratio.

"Turnovers were the difference; they're a great defense," coach Scott Linehan said. "Defensively, I thought we played pretty solid for most of the game except for a couple of plays. We put our defense in some bad situations with turnovers, and you're not going to win games with turnovers."

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Leonard Little aggravated a toe injury that has been bothering him all season, but he did register his first sack of the season, which resulted in a fumble.
--C Brett Romberg left the game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. Romberg said it was a sprain, but held out hope he would be available Sunday against Seattle.
--WR Drew Bennett, who has been bothered all season by a quad injury, injured a hamstring Sunday against Baltimore, but his status for the next game was unknown.
--QB Gus Frerotte was banged around during Sunday's game against Baltimore. In addition to throwing five interceptions and losing a fumble, Frerotte suffered injuries to his ribs and jaw.
--SS Corey Chavous missed his second game because of a pectoral injury, but has a decent chance of returning next Sunday against Seattle.
--QB Marc Bulger might be available next Sunday against Seattle, but Bulger indicated he probably wouldn't be ready because it takes more than two weeks for broken ribs to heal.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The San Francisco 49ers have the same record (2-3) as a year ago at this time, but that is not enough to appease the fan base. The 49ers have young offensive skill players who should theoretically be better than a year ago. They have an offensive line that remains intact, with the addition of rookie Joe Staley, who beat out incumbent right tackle Kwame Harris. Moreover, the 49ers sunk nearly $40 million of guaranteed money into the defense.

That is why coach Mike Nolan has come under scrutiny for the team's start. The 49ers won their opening two games quite unimpressively by a combined four points over the Cardinals and Rams. The 49ers have a three-game losing streak entering their game Sunday against the New York Giants.

"I think that's because the expectations have changed," Nolan said of the criticism. "And they have for me, too. But that's OK. The expectations need to be different than they were."

The main culprit has been the 49ers' offense. The team showed signs of turning the corner with an acceptable offensive performance Sept. 23 against the Pittsburgh, but their progress was halted due, in part, to injuries.

Tight end Vernon Davis sustained a knee injury and missed the next two games. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a separated throwing shoulder on the 49ers' third offensive play in the next game. Also, left tackle Jonas Jennings missed a game due to personal reasons.

Each of those players has a chance to return to action against the Giants, as the 49ers hope to turn things around and make a serious run at the NFC West title.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith plans to throw over the weekend and at practice on Monday. He said he believes there is a strong chance he'll be available to play next week against the Giants. Smith sustained a separated right shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seahawks but is making good progress.
--TE Vernon Davis is running at close to full speed and plans to practice Wednesday and play against the Giants. Davis sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee on Sept. 23 against the Steelers.
--WR Ashley Lelie, who played just 10 snaps in the first five games, will see a more active role in the offense after the bye week, coach Mike Nolan said. Nolan said he spoke with Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan after the team played Sunday and Ryan told him that his team planned to double-team Lelie whenever he was on the field. Lelie played just one snap. The Ravens did not double-team any of the 49ers' other receivers.
--WR Jason Hill, a rookie from Washington State, is back at practice after missing three games with a hamstring strain. However, Hill faces increased competition to get on the field. Since he went out with his injury, the 49ers re-signed Bryan Gilmore and brought in second-year player LeRon McCoy. Plus, the 49ers plan for Ashley Lelie to have an increased role in the offense.
--RT Joe Staley has been a bright spot on the 49ers' offensive line through the first five games. Staley has been the team's most consistent offensive lineman, coach Mike Nolan said. Staley beat out incumbent Kwame Harris for the starting job.


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